Tuesday 12 December 2017

Businessman facing jail following death of employee in lift shaft

Stephen Hampson, on his wedding day, with his wife Aisling and sons Ryan and Joshua
Stephen Hampson, on his wedding day, with his wife Aisling and sons Ryan and Joshua
Stephen Hampson

Aoife Nic Ardghail

Two former bar and nightclub owners will be sentenced later for health and safety breaches that resulted in an employee being crushed to death in a lift shaft.

Employees and managers regularly used a goods-only lift to move between floors at The Blu Bar, despite signs above the lift doors prohibiting people transport.

Kay Baxter, a Health and Safety Authority inspector, said that a barmaid had seen TBC Bar Ltd company director James Lambert (45) using the lift after he had told her not to get into it about five months before 31-year-old Stephen Hampson was killed.

CCTV footage showed former director David McKee (40) in the lift with his eight-year-old stepdaughter and Mr Hampson one hour before the fatality.

When asked if he consider the lift dangerous Mr McKee told gardai: "Before the accident I would have said no, afterwards of course. I wouldn't intentionally put anyone's life at risk.”

He had attended the deceased’s funeral and had shaken hands with members of Mr Hampson’s family during a past court date.

McKee had resigned as company director in July 2008 to work at his haulage business, but the court heard that staff saw him as someone in authority.

Lambert, of Castlelawns, Tallaght, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to failing to manage and conduct work activities to ensure the safety, health and welfare of employees; as a consequence of which Mr Hampson suffered personal injury and died on August 23, 2009.

He also pleaded guilty to recklessly placing the safety, health and welfare of employees at risk at the venue on the same date. He has no previous convictions.

McKee, of Ellensborough Rise, Tallaght, pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the safety, health and welfare of employees.

He also pleaded guilty to placing the health, safety and welfare of workers at risk as a consequence of which Mr Hampson suffered personal injury and died. He has no previous convictions.

Ms Baxter told Alexander Owens SC, prosecuting, that a staff member found Mr Hampson after the lift failed to come up to his level when called. He heard something dripping and saw the deceased’s hand trapped in the lift shaft.

The father-of-two, who had been promoted to assistant bar manager, was declared dead shortly after emergency services arrived at the scene.

Ms Baxter said he was trapped between the lift car and the lift shaft and suffered fatal injuries.

Judge Mary Ellen Ring adjourned sentencing to refer Lambert and McKee to the Restorative Justice Programme through The Probation Service.

She ordered a Probation Service report on McKee, a father of three, and also directed that both men be assessed for community service as an “interim step” before sentence finalisation.

The judge said she was leaving “all options open”.          

Ms Baxter said staff members would get into the lift in a crouch position as it was not designed to carry people. They would push buttons outside the lift to access different levels and exit the lift head first.

Ms Baxter added that during the subsequent health and safety investigation, some staff had said they noticed problems with the lift in the weeks prior to Mr Hampson’s death.

A consultant engineer’s report on the lift’s state revealed that its safety features had been tampered with and that the lift could move between some levels with its door open.

The report had found that the lift had not been in fit condition to transport goods at the time of the accident.

Ms Baxter told Mr Owens that maintenance work had been carried out on the lift twice in the months before the fatality, but that it had been done by someone without the materials and tools required for the job.

Lambert admitted to health and safety inspectors that he used the lift on occasion and knew it was dangerous.

He said he’d been satisfied with prohibition signs around the lift and had made threats of sacking staff who used it.

Ms Baxter agreed with Michael O’Higgins SC, defending Lambert, that his client had no previous experience in the licensed trade.

She further agreed that Lambert hadn’t tried to distance himself from the day to day running of the business and admitted he had advised staff not to use the lift as manager and director.

Mr O’Higgins apologised “unequivocally” in court on his client’s behalf. He submitted that Lambert had nothing to do with overriding the lift’s safety features.

He asked the judge to take into account his client’s early guilty plea, which he submitted granted significant relief to the deceased’s widow and family.

Ms Baxter agreed with Remy Farrell SC, defending McKee, that his client had not been at the premises that much, having resigned as director in 2008.

She agreed he told gardai that he would attend the bar to help Mr Lambert out bringing in stock for the weekend.

He admitted he was at a meeting in which it was discussed how management and staff used the lift despite prohibiting signs.

He said the father-of-three ceased his haulage business as he felt it wouldn’t be feasibly to obtain and retain a license with a conviction.

Counsel asked the judge to consider that nothing in the book of evidence described McKee as a manager, even though staff regarded him as an authority figure.

Irish Independent

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